Julie Guilfoyle
Mental Health Therapist, Writer and Victim Advocate

Victims Call for Ethics Process Transparency from CCAR & the URJ

Israel Flag with the words Justice. (iStock)
Israel Flag with the words Justice. (iStock)

By complete accident, I clicked on a CCAR webpage today and discovered that CCAR is voting on changes to its ethics code on June 10th.  Since last year, I have been following these updates closely, and despite many promises for better transparency, this voting session is not listed on the CCAR Ethics Updates page.  CCAR & The URJ have failed to keep promise after promise since the 2021 Alcalaw and Debevoise & Plimpton investigation reports were released.  These meetings should be announced and open to the public.  Task force meetings should also be published and open to the public.  Issues related to individual ethics cases are not discussed in meetings about changing the code.  The only reason to keep this information private is to maintain a level of secrecy and power that is unhealthy and dysfunctional.  It is time that CCAR and the URJ follow through with their promises of transparency and accountability.  

“They learned from the current and past Ethics Committee chairs. They led a program at the 2022 CCAR Convention on the theme of confidentiality and transparency” – CCAR website quote

Israel flag with the words Justice

“I begged for help and the URJ ignored me …  Being harmed in this way has made me become skeptical of everyone. I feel there’s no safe space, no safe person, no safe Jewish organization “– Sent to the URJ in 2024

Over this last year, I have spoken with witnesses and alleged victims regarding 18 ethics complaints filed with CCAR.  I am shocked, anguished, furious, and disgusted over the broken promises made by CCAR and the URJ regarding reforming their ethics processes.  After the release of the Alcalaw Report, the CCAR’s Executive Director stated in an undated message on the CCAR’s webpage:   “The report shows that our system is not broken.”  My personal experience and conversations are not in alignment with this statement and, in fact, indicate a level of brokenness that may be beyond repair.  Others stories, along with my own experiences, give me a sense of hopelessness and a belief that this system is so broken that the only way to fix it may be to contract out the ethics processes to an outside agency until it can be completely revamped.

“CCAR never conveyed the seriousness of the allegations they were aware of regarding this rabbi, leaving his former congregants, colleagues, and the public with the impression that he had not done anything too grave.”  – In an Appeal to the Attorney General, March 2024

The disturbing quotes in this article are printed with explicit permission.  All of these statements were made, in writing, directly to the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), or the Attorney General.  The statements to the Attorney General were made in an appeal for the Attorney General to investigate and implement external oversight over the URJ and CCAR.  

“When I reached out and was ignored, I didn’t feel heard, supported, or protected by the URJ. I feel that I have been spiritually raped and assaulted.  My belief in G-d is the only thing that has kept me from harming myself.” – Statement regarding the feelings of ongoing lack of support – sent to the URJ in January 2024.

On our Jewish calendar, as is our tradition, we have now entered the days of counting the Omer.   Our focus during the Omer becomes the potential for inner growth.  This is a time of working on self-improvement by examining one aspect for potential growth for each day of the 49 days of counting.  This is an appropriate time to bring attention to the ongoing failures of the Reform movement and to remind the URJ, CCAR, and the public that we are still not “free.” It is a time to state loudly that we feel that there has been no T’Shuvah, nor do we feel that these agencies have kept their promises to do better.  

As Jews, we are obligated to openly examine the harm that we have done to others, to protect the vulnerable, and to stand up to oppression.  I am not alone in not believing that CCAR or the URJ have met that obligation or have any intention to stop oppressing and silencing the victims who come forward.  We are gagged, expendable, and disposable in order to protect the powerful and the organization.  Many of us have lost our entire communities, our spouses, our careers and are seen as pariahs for blowing the whistle.  Two years later, it still feels like we are screaming into a void.  

“I have been through hell, and to date nothing has happened in the legal system or government to investigate the extensive, severe, and longstanding problem of rabbinic coverups by the CCAR. My [loved one] is dead, I have PTSD, and my life will never be the same.” – In a Statement to the Attorney General March 2024.

In these days of reflection, I challenge CCAR and the URJ to hear us, to really listen to our voices and our ongoing experience of pain and mistreatment.  I challenge you to review your own words, words that we believe were uttered only as smoke and mirrors to quiet the voices of dissent, but your words nonetheless.

URJ – September 2023:  As Yom Kippur 5784 approaches, our commitment to making amends and pursuing restorative justice remains resolute. Even as the final shofar blast sounds at the end of Neilah, we will continue to hold ourselves accountable and atone for the harm suffered by victims and survivors. We will never shirk from this challenging, morally demanding work … This year, we will continue to do everything in our power to make amends for the harms endured by victims/survivors

“I don’t know how anyone could think any of this is ok.  For a while, I was in a really bad place and I used to wonder if it would take me killing myself for any of this to matter” – 2023 email to CCAR.

This is not the first time that CCAR has been called out for “unconventional” and unacceptable Ethics Committee policies.”  The lack of transparent, conventionally acceptable policies governing the CCAR and URJ ethics process and the refusal to implement ongoing, objective, external reviews allow both agencies to continue acting with absolutely no transparency. 

“There is also no way for you to repair the damage that you so carelessly have done … with no concern for anyone’s wellbeing but protecting the reputation of rabbis engaged in misconduct.  If you weren’t [sic] so busy worrying about their reputations, maybe you could look around and see the devastation that YOU and they have caused.” – 2024 Email to CCAR

This April, the New York Attorney General implemented oversight of the Catholic Church due to their mishandling of investigations.   We are asking for the same, voluntarily or involuntarily.  We cannot allow empty smoke and mirror promises with no accountability to pacify the 2020 uprising that prompted both agencies to hire law firms.  How soon we have forgotten that CCAR and the URJ were implicated in those investigations.  We wanted to believe in our leadership, but current cases show that they cannot police themselves, and in order to rebuild public trust, they need to stop operating in complete secrecy.  

We cannot force change, but what we can do is refuse to be silent.  I challenge all who read this to take a stand and call or write emails to these organizations and demand that CCAR and the URJ take immediate action by implementing ongoing external oversight.   

“You’re mad at me because I say harsh words to you on Shabbat and holidays.  Well, I’m mad at you for ruining my life, so I hardly think you have anything to complain about.  Your actions and lack of actions have caused such permanent harm, and none of you care at all.  None of that can be undone … ” – 2024 email to CCAR 

  • A list of agency contact information can be found on the petition.
  • You may also communicate with volunteers anonymously here.

If you are one of us, know that

We See You

We Hear You

We Believe You

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָד

About the Author
Julie has been working as a therapist with abuse and trauma victims for more than 25 years. She began her career working in the areas of child behavior, child abuse, and abuse investigations. She worked as a forensic interviewer and served as an expert witness in abuse and trauma. She trained CPS workers on forensic interviewing, investigation, and interviewing ethics. She brings a unique view to women's issues, victimization, trauma, and ethics. She has recently developed an interest in Jewish ethics. Her background in abuse issues, advocacy, ethics, and investigations work drives her pursuit for justice, fairness, and transparency in the world of Jewish ethics.
Related Topics
Related Posts